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We are wrapping up the look back at our favorite ELAW moments from 2010, with entries from ELAW’s Executive Director, Bern Johnson, and Associate Director, Lori Maddox. Bern and Lori have been with ELAW from the beginning. They have been a part of many landmark victories and memorable moments. Like so many members of the ELAW network, they have also become fast friends with partners around the world, working together for years and sharing more than legal resources.

Thanks for reading in 2010. We hope you will feel inspired to share these stories with others and continue following ELAW in 2011.

Lauren, ELAW Office Manager

…..

Bern Johnson, ELAW Executive Director
Saving Pellew Island

Saving Pellew Island is a favorite victory.  Pellew Island is a tiny little dot of 1.5 acres off Eastern Jamaica’s Portland Parish.  I’ve never seen it.  I’ve never even been to Jamaica!

Yet, I smile when I think about Pellew Island.  I know that people in Jamaica have been enjoying Pellew Island for generations.  I know it is home to native trees, a pristine beach, healthy seagrass beds, and coral reefs.  I know that one of our partners in Jamaica—Diana McCaulay—spent many happy hours on Pellew Island as a child.

I also know that the owners of Pellew Island proposed to build four villas on the island—they were advertised for sale on www.privateislandsonline.com for $2.5 million apiece.  Building these villas would have destroyed living things on Pellew Island and forever changed it—it would have ceased being a natural place that Jamaicans could enjoy.  And, I know that in Jamaica it is hard to win lasting victories for the environment, especially when someone stands to make big money by destroying natural treasures.

So, I am thrilled that Jamaica’s government rejected plans to build these villas on Pellew Island.  When I think of this tiny island, I am reminded:  Greed does not have to win–people can decide that some places are too unique and too special to be sacrificed for profit. Profits come and go, but I hope Pellew Island stays pristine forever.

Lori Maddox, ELAW Associate Director
ELAW – My Extended Family

Zschiesche family in Eugene

When I reflect on what might be my ELAW “pick” for 2010, what comes to mind FIRST is a steady stream of faces of the people in the ELAW network -who form an integral part of my extended family.  Watching Thuli Makama receive the Goldman Prize in San Francisco, welcoming Thuli and her daughters to the home of an ELAW Director in Berkeley, watching the teenagers compare notes about school in Berkeley and Swaziland.  Welcoming Jean Andre Victor, of Haiti, to my local Eugene international potluck group.  Birdwatching in Costa Rica at 6am with Ritwick (India), Ipat (Philippines) and Ian (Australia) – while swapping organizing strategies and stories of our work.  Welcoming the dawn on Solstice Day from the top of a mountain with my family and the Zschiesche family, in Eugene on a fellowship from ELAW Germany.

Because for me, the greatest thing about ELAW is how our relationships help us get up every day and fight the good fight even better.  Michael Zschiesche visited Eugene in the early 1990s, when we were both a lot younger, and had big ideas, but very small organizations.  Now Michael leads the Independent Institute of Environmental Concerns (UfU) in Berlin, and we both have the good fortune to be part of a much bigger international ELAW family.  When Michael was here the first time, ELAW was comprised of a dozen or so advocates in as many countries.  Now we are 300 strong, in 70 countries.  His visit in 2010 helped me reflect on how far we have come, and what we, together, are accomplishing.  The volume of excellent work that my ELAW heroes churn out is astounding.

Coqui, ACCSD's first staff member

In addition to the wisdom of experience like Michael’s, I cherish the constant inflow of fresh perspective and new ideas.  This year I helped some great folks in Belize launch new organizations that will help advance environmental law.  So another “pick” would have to be celebrating the first staff and the new office of the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) in San Pedro, and (office coming soon) its sister organization in Placencia: the Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

And one final Belize “pick:” the publication of Stand Up, Speak Up, a citizens guide to public participation in Belize by BELPO.  The Guide is already in its second printing, and citizens around the country are using it to challenge a constant stream of short-sighted development schemes that threaten Belize’s unparalleled natural treasures.

Let me first wish all of our readers a joyous and peaceful new year!  Our blog series of 2010 feel good moments continues.

You read last week about some of ELAW staff’s favorite moments from 2010. Although everyone obliged and narrowed down their entries to only one piece, I quickly realized that these fond memories and unforgettable events would not be easily summarized into a few stale sentences. Instead of stripping these entries for the sake of length, I decided to retain the details and ensure that our readers got to hear the full story. And so, without further ado, Round 2 of ELAW’s “Staff Picks” of 2010. And yes, there will be a Round 3 – check back next week!

Lauren, ELAW Office Manager

Maggie, Communications Director
2010 ELAW Fellows

Maggie & ELAW Fellows from Ghana & Georgia

My 2010 highlight was the tremendous committed ELAW Fellows we hosted. We welcomed seven leading attorneys and one scientist, from Hungary, Liberia, Ghana, Georgia, Panama, Haiti, Germany, and China.  Four of our Fellows, including Zhang Yonghua from Shenzhen, China, were visiting the U.S. for their first time.

Zhang wrote in our guest book:

Dear ELAW Family:

Thanks for your helpfulness and friendship. Studying with ELAW has been one of the most important experiences in my life. I learned about American legal system, American environmental law system, climate markets, and regulating mining and marine pollution. In addition, I learned English and American culture at the same time.

I will never forget this valuable experience. I will never forget the friendship of the ELAW staff. I will do my best to help those suffering from environmental pollution. Dear friend, welcome to China. I am waiting for you!

Zhang Yonghua

ELAW Fellowships are individually tailored to meet the needs of our partners.  Zhang lived in the “ELAW House,” rode the ELAW bike to classes at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute, and worked closely with ELAW staff attorneys and scientists to enrich his understanding of public interest law and environmental issues facing communities in China.

Eager to explore life in America, Zhang spoke to an environmental science class at our local high school. The students were pleased to meet someone from China working to address pollution.

Making personal connections here in Eugene with our partners from around the world was my personal highlight in 2010. We have already welcomed our first ELAW Fellow in 2011 – Olena Kravchenko, Executive Director of Environment-People-Law, based in Lviv, Ukraine.  In late February, Olena will be joined by ELAW Fellows from Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia, Liberia, and Ghana.

Stay tuned for blog posts from these inspiring ELAW partners.

Liz, Staff Attorney
Bringing Lessons Home

Part of our mission at ELAW is to help build the next generation of public interest environmental lawyers.  Each year, the ELAW network welcomes new partners from around the world, some of whom are just a few years into their practice.  I have a pinboard above my desk with picture upon picture of ELAW partners that I’ve had the honor and great fun of meeting over the years.  One of my favorites is an image of Fernando Dougnac, the esteemed Chilean environmental lawyer, atop Mt. Pisgah in Eugene.  He is surrounded by environmental lawyers many years his junior from the Philippines, Mexico, Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic.  Arms around each other, smiles broad — the image says it all.  Each generation shares experience, new insights, energy, and (most of all) a special camaraderie that is the hallmark of the ELAW network.

Don Fernando and friends

ELAW also plays a role in building this new generation of public interest lawyers in the U.S.  ELAW maintains a close connection with the University of Oregon School of Law, and hosts several UO law students during the academic year, as well as full-time interns from UO and other law schools over the summer months.  These second and third year students gain valuable experience working on projects with leading environmental advocates around the world.

Of my many “ELAW moments” of 2010, one that brings me great joy is working with one of our stellar summer interns, Ashley White, during her first week at ELAW in late May.  Generally the first week of an ELAW summer legal internship is relatively calm, and we try not to overwhelm anyone — at least until they get settled in!  Ashley, however, started her internship during a week when we had a lot of deadlines.  One urgent request came from a lawyer in Southeast Asia concerning a very specific procedural defense that had been raised by a mining company in one of her cases.  In my mind, I was not hopeful that we would find any helpful court precedents in such a short time.  I also worried that this challenging request would be a terrible first assignment for a new intern and would sour her entire summer experience at ELAW.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ashley and I set to work, first learning about this defense (more often used in Commonwealth countries than in the U.S.) and then searching for court decisions that could help our partner.  We gathered as much information as we could, scanned books, and emailed attachments.  A few days later, our partner not only emailed us some wonderful words of gratitude along with news of her victory, but also took the time to explain what had happened during the court hearing — including a vivid description of the sudden rainstorm that forced angry protestors (brought to the courthouse by the mining company) to hastily retreat back into their bus right as she was about to enter the courthouse.  As we read over the court’s decision, we were pleased to see that the court had included an excerpt from a case that Ashley had found from the Solomon Islands.

As thrilled as I was for our partner, I was equally thrilled that Ashley had seen her hard work and research have such a direct and immediate impact out in the world.  It is moments like this that draw the new generation of lawyers to the practice of public interest environmental law and bring inspiration to those of us who have been fortunate enough to work in this field for many years.

Glenn, IT Manager
Belize Bans Bottom Trawling

My personal highlight was announced by ELAW partners in December:  Belize banned all bottom trawling in its waters!  This ban will help protect marine life including the Mesoamerican Reef.

According to Oceana, which led the campaign, “Belize has become one of the first countries in the world to institute a complete and permanent ban on trawling in all its waters.” We are sure this ban will inspire advocates working to protect marine life around the world!

Lauren Ice

We have so much to look back on in 2010 that it is hard to know where to start in compiling a year-end review of the work that ELAW and its partners have accomplished.  So, I challenged ELAW staff to each pick one personal highlight from the past year to share with our blog readers.  Through these “staff picks” you can join us in celebrating some notable victories, learn a little about the behind-the-scenes at ELAW, and share in a few of the many moments that make ELAW so unique among environmental organizations.

Our partners face daunting challenges in their day-to-day work of helping communities speak out for clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet.  When constantly faced with corrupt governments, mining companies more concerned about finding the next ounce of gold than about the irreparable impacts to the surrounding community’s water supplies, and concerns about the real impacts of climate change, it is helpful to step back and remember that working together, we’re making a difference.

Everyone complained about having to choose just one favorite moment to share, but after much arm-twisting, I am happy to bring these stories to you.  As 2010 comes to a close, we celebrate our partners’ many brave and amazing accomplishments – and a special shout out to the newest addition to ELAW’s growing list of Goldman Prize winners – Thuli Brilliance Makama of Swaziland in southern Africa!

We couldn’t fit all of our picks into this week’s post. Check back next week for round two!

From everyone at ELAW, we wish you and yours another wonderful year! We will work hard to ensure that 2011 is filled with many more victories for the earth.

All the best in 2011,
Lauren

Mark, Staff Scientist
India: Environmental Tribunal Halts Lafarge Project Plans

Manali Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh, India PHOTO: Paul Evans

In late August of this year, the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) canceled permission that the Ministry of the Environment had granted earlier to Lafarge, one of the world’s largest cement companies. In June 2009, Lafarge received environmental clearance it needed to begin work to mine for limestone and construct a cement factory in an ecologically-sensitive area of the Himalayan State Himachal Pradesh.

The order came after members of the NEAA visited the proposed project site and heard from hundreds of local people who opposed the project. The order states: “Both the EAC and the Ministry have not correctly assessed the impact of the project on land, water and air and failed to appreciate its effects on the livelihood of the people of the area.”

I reviewed the EIA and prepared a report with my conclusions. We found flaws in the EIA for the proposed plant, including a lack on any assessment of the ecological impacts of destroying hundreds of hectares of natural forest. The NEAA acknowledged in its order that the EIA was deficient.

Michele, Donor Liaison
South Africa: Stricter Air Pollution Standards and a Ban on a Toxic Pesticide

Angela Andrews at the Legal Resources Center in Johannesburg announced two big victories for South Africa in 2010!

In March, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism issued a comprehensive set of final industrial air pollutant emission standards, a first for the African continent. We provided Angela with examples of how legislation in the United States and elsewhere provides for strict ambient air quality standards and requires industrial polluters to achieve emission standards based on the “best available technology.” There are now strict air quality standards in South Africa and polluters are required to install the best pollution control technology for controlling emissions.

In May, South Africa prohibited the use of chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic pesticide, for household, home garden and domestic uses. Better known as Dursban, this chemical has been linked to neurodevelopment disorders in children, affecting their long-term cognitive and motor abilities. We helped Angela use scientific evidence to link this chemical to health problems and show that other countries have effective regulatory systems in place.  This victory not only improves the health of those in South Africa, it creates an important precedent for protecting citizens from toxic pesticides that can be used in communities all around the world.

Jen, Staff Attorney
Insular Caribbean:  Building Connections Among Environmental Advocates

Euren Cuevas Medina of Dominican Republic (left) and Jean Andre Victor of Haiti

One of the best moments of 2010 for me was when Euren Cuevas Medina of INSAPROMA (in the Dominican Republic) skyped me to say that he was writing to Jean Andre Victor of AHDEN (in Haiti) to see how he was doing after some violence broke out in Port au Prince following recent elections.  I loved that moment because just a few weeks before, these two lawyers who live on the same island but speak different languages, didn’t even know each other.  They met each other at ELAW’s recent Annual Meeting in Costa Rica.

Helping to make these connections is one of the reasons I love to come to work every day.  These two are now likely to collaborate on issues that will benefit communities in both of their countries for years to come.  In fact, Jean Andre just invited Euren to participate in an environmental law workshop that AHDEN and ELAW will hold together in February.  The workshop is part of a larger effort that ELAW is coordinating with regional environmental organizations to protect the environment in the Insular Caribbean.

Photograph of the entrance to the Harbour View plant taken in March 2009 before the lawsuit (left) and in October 2010 after the lawsuit.

Our friends at Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) are also a critical part of this effort, and have been very active in enforcing Jamaica’s environmental and public participation laws.  Of their many accomplishments over the years, JET recently helped the residents of Harbour View (St. Andrew, Jamaica) to convince the government to fix a sewage treatment plant that has been broken for thirty years.

Lauren, Office Manager
Bangladesh: Supreme Court Reiterates – No Toxic Ships

My memorable moment of 2010 came when I heard Rizwana Hasan, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) speak at the PIELC at the University of Oregon School of Law last year. I was moved by the passion with which she spoke about rogue ship breaking in her home country. Too often, the dangerous process of dismantling obsolete ships is sent to poorer nations, where workers’ safety and environmental protection are ignored. After over five years of legal struggle, BELA won a victory in 2009 that stated:

• Uncertified ship-breaking operations must close within two weeks;
• Ship-breaking operations must obtain environmental certification before operating in Bangladesh;
• Ships must be cleaned of all hazardous materials before entering the country; and
• Ship-breaking operations must guarantee safe working conditions for workers and environmentally-sound disposal plans for wastes.

Since BELA’s victory last year, ship breaking companies have been looking for ways to bypass the law and appeal the previous rulings. But earlier this month, we heard more news from Bangladesh – the High Court of Bangladesh issued an official order to stop the issuance of new ‘no objection certificates’ (NOCs) for all future incoming ships. The Court also instructed the government to form an expert committee to determine whether a ship arriving for scrap has been cleaned of hazardous materials.

This recent news makes it clear that BELA and Rizwana are holding the courts and the industry accountable to the rulings, and continuing to fight for improved working conditions and environmental protection in Bangladesh.

Remember to check back next week for more of our favorite moments from 2010!

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